The imprint of the Downing family on Creston wrestling, which continues today with 2002 graduate Cody Downing taking over as Panther head coach, began when Creston started a wrestling program in 1962.
Rich Downing was a sophomore at Creston High School that year, and quickly took to the sport. He became a state qualifier as a senior in 1964, and credits his time in wrestling to turning him into an all-state football linebacker as a senior.
Downing was recruited to wrestle at Northwest Missouri State University, where he studied education. He was an NCAA Division II national qualifier as a junior in 1967 and was part of a Bearcat team that had wins over several Division I schools, including Nebraska and Missouri.
After completing his bachelor’s degree, Downing stayed in Maryville to earn his master’s degree in education administration in 1969. The 1966-67 wrestling team was inducted into Maryville’s M Club Hall of Fame in 2004.
In 1970 Downing moved back to Creston to teach industrial arts. He coached football, wrestling, tennis and taught driver’s education. Downing teamed with head coach Jerome Hruska to build a statewide power in wrestling at Creston High School. During his tenure as a Panther assistant coach, Creston finished in the top 10 at the state tournament three times.
Downing helped to restart the Southwestern Community College wrestling program in 1975. He held the head coaching position for three seasons until returning to farm with his parents, Paul and Berneice Downing, following the 1977 season.
During his time at SWCC, Downing coached several wrestlers to the NJCAA tournament, including Dennis Smith and Dan Hayes of Creston in 1977. Also, several of his wrestlers would go on to become coaches.
Downing returned to the high school ranks for seven seasons at Creston High School starting in the 1992-93 season, succeeding John Walters’ seven-year run at the helm. His teams were always known for their aggressive, tough wrestling style and in just his second year the Panthers had three placewinners and two state finalists, finishing fourth in Class 2A in 1994.
Downing finished his coaching tenure during the 1998-99 season in style with two state champions in Dylan Long and Andrew Hayes. During his time as head coach the Panthers had 23 state qualifiers with 11 placewinners and two state champions. His overall dual record was 91-42-7 in seven seasons. He was succeeded by Darrell Frain.
Rich and wife Mary continue to live and farm north of Creston. They have five grown sons: Todd (wife Lesa), Brett (wife Kathy), Kasey (wife Jody), Cody (wife Jenni) and Chris (wife Ashley). All of the boys wrestled for the Panthers, with Kasey, Cody and Chris all becoming state placewinners.
Kasey placed fifth in 1994, Cody was fourth in 2001 and Chris placed third in 2004. Cody and Chris went on to wrestle collegiately at Simpson College.
Cody served as an assistant coach for Frain for several years before being named head coach earlier this year when Frain became head football coach and athletic director at Riverside of Oakland.